DERRY — Buddy Roemer is the political reformer in the New Hampshire GOP primary field.
Other candidates emphasize the economy, creating jobs, tax reform and downsizing government. Roemer is with them on those issues, too, but says the nation is in trouble because of the influence the wealthy, powerful and corporations hold over the Democrat and Republican parties.
Roemer, 68, a former four-term Congressman and two-term governor from Louisiana, wants to change the game.
"The issue in this campaign is corruption," Roemer said in an interview last week with The Eagle-Tribune editorial board. "Washington, D.C., is bought and sold. It's owned by the big boys.
"They write the tax code. They put earmarks in the budget," he said. "They allow unfair trade with China that steals our manufacturing jobs."
The problem is evident in the actions and inactions of government, Roemer said.
"I don't think any one of them is corrupt," Roemer said of the politicians in Washington. "But the system is. We've got to break it or this country's going to be mediocre in its future."
He said he would restrict political action committees, limit contributions, increase disclosure and impose criminal penalties for violations.
"They try to hide their contributions," Roemer said.
Reform would make a different, better America, Roemer believes.
"You will have a new America," he said. "Now, if everybody's playing by the rules, good people can get elected."
Roemer said he wonders if the reform theme is the reason organizers excluded him from nationally televised debates. He is frustrated over evolving debate rules that seemed to block him when he met prior benchmarks of participation.
Roemer wants to get on stage
He said he never thought a former governor and Congressman — the only one in the field — would be excluded from all national debates.
"I can't win unless I reach the stage," Roemer said.
All he wants is a chance to be heard. Last week, he said he is looking outside the GOP nominating process toward a campaign for the nomination of Americans Elect. The Washington-based nonpartisan group is working to get a bipartisan ticket on the ballot in all 50 states.
Roemer likes that Americans Elect lets candidates keep their party labels. But even Abraham Lincoln changed parties, Roemer pointed out.
"He said occasionally you've got to go outside of where you come from.," he said of Lincoln. "You've got to stand for something."
Roemer likes seeing the young people in the Occupy Wall Street movement protesting corporate influence in the country. They remind him, he said, of those from the civil rights movement in the South and who protested the war in Vietnam.
"Listen to the young people," Roemer said. "They're not always right, but they're always worth listening to. The young people are telling us something — something is corrupt in D.C. Something smells. They know it."
Roemer's view of America is of a country in crisis.
"We're a nation in trouble. We got cheap. We got easy," he said. "And we've forgotten our children and our grandchildren."
Roemer grew up on a farm, sounds a bit like the Methodist lay preachers his parents were, and went off to Harvard at the age of 16. He is an economist who founded community banks.
In politics, he went to Washington as a Democrat. He led the Democrat "Boll Weevils" who supported Republican President Reagan's policies. Later, he joined the Republicans as governor. He came as an outsider, a reformer, from far back in the polls to win in Louisiana.
"This is what I do," he said.
Solutions for troubled economy
The economy troubles him, as it does other candidates.
"We're headed in the wrong direction. We cannot produce jobs for our grandchildren," Roemer said. "We have a trade imbalance that is in its 41st consecutive year. Never in the history of mankind has that happened and a nation survived."
Roemer would rebuild manufacturing, and emphasize a buy-American strategy as president.
"I would have displayed by law a flag of origin on every product sold," Roemer said. "Just real simple."
His governing mantra is summed up in four words: fast, focused, flexible, friendly.
"What is government not? Fast, focused, flexible, friendly," Roemer said.
He would institute a flat tax of 17 percent with a $50,000 exemption and close loopholes.
"The major corporations and the wealthy will have to pay their fair share," Roemer said.
Government would be downsized from 25 percent of gross domestic product to 18 percent. The federal budget would be trimmed $140 billion a year for five years. Big government is a problem, he said, because it is now being used as a profit center for big business.
Roemer would gradually raise eligibility ages for Social Security and Medicare to keep it solvent.
Favors limited use of tariffs
He wants to hold China accountable for fair trade. He would block or financially penalize products made in China under conditions that violate U.S. laws and standards.
He departs from the free markets theme stressed by rivals and would consider selective, limited use of protective tariffs.
"The selective use of tariffs, announced by the president and passed by Congress ... will be employed," Roemer said. "I'm not a tariff man, but I am a fair trade man."
His energy policy would encourage alternative energy and reduce dependence on foreign sources. His thrust would be on developing natural gas.
In foreign policy, he would reduce foreign aid and respond to Iran's nuclear threat with economic sanctions. He would not lead with the military.
"Peace is my goal, prosperity is my aim," Roemer said.
Health-care reform would emerge from policies encouraging "competition and choice," he said.
"I would do away with the exemption for insurance companies from Sherman anti-trust," he said, "which means no more monopolies."
Roemer governed Louisiana at a time when that state introduced riverboat gambling and a state lottery. He cautions New Hampshire as it considers casinos and slots.
"It's been moderately successful," he said. "There are consequences, ... It needs to be fully debated. There are good and bad points."
Roemer's campaign comes down to getting his message out about political reform, be it now in New Hampshire or somewhere down the road on the campaign trail.
"I'm like the canary in the coal mine," Roemer said. "I don't want to be shut off."
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Political office: Governor of Louisiana; Congressman.
Before politics: Banker, political consultant, MBA Harvard Business School.
Personal: Married father of three children; diabetic.
Trivia: Member of Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame; first visited Derry to see Robert Frost farm.
Defining moments: Led Democrat "Boll Weevils" in Congress in support of President Reagan policies; won governor's office as outsider Republican reformer.
NH primary surprise: Seeking Americans Elect nomination while running in GOP field.
Roemer on the issues
Fighting special interest influence in politics through campaign reforms including limits on PACs, contributions. Wants full disclosure by candidates on contributions.
Creating jobs by encouraging manufacturing. One proposal: tax incentives for companies to make products in America.
Balance the federal budget by cutting spending $140 billion a year for five years. Limit government to about 18 percent of gross domestic product.
Reform tax system by closing loopholes, limiting deductions and imposing a 17 percent flat tax on income over $50,000.
Limit foreign aid. Philosophy: American shouldn't be world's policeman.
Strengthen banking by raising capital ratios and separating investment from banking.
Encourage school choice, limit Department of Education powers.
Tie immigration to needs of job market; let illegal immigrants return home, apply for U.S. citizenship.
Halt health-care reforms enacted under President Obama. Increase competition for prescription drugs. Let consumers buy insurance across state lines.
Reduce dependence on foreign oil. Expand drilling where environmentally safe. Boost natural gas use. Encourage nuclear, solar, wind and other alternatives.